A mini empire of Gallipoli restaurants is clustered on Upper street in Islington. There is the original Gallipoli, Gallipoli Cafe and Gallipoli Bazaar. It seems the locals could not get enough of the cheap and cheerful Turkish food on offer and so one Gallipoli extrapolated into three.
We are at Gallipoli Cafe and eating here means that you will be squeezed onto one of the closely packed wooden tables in the atmospheric dining room where bells and other Turkish looking paraphernalia hang from every square inch of space on the ceiling while old black and white photographs cover the walls.
In a Turkish restaurant the mezze options to begin are always a highlight of the meal. Small containers of dark, sticky olives are brought to each table at Gallipoli as soon as you sit down. Soft pillows of Turkish bread arrive accompanied by lashings of creamy hummus and a moreish broad bean dip that is a skillful combination of an acidic yoghurt base with spring fresh beans. Fried calamari sports batter that is crispy rather than greasy and the calamari is pliant and tasty. However the dolmades are a let down as the vine leaf wrapped bundles are served fridge cold and stuffed with gluggy rice.
We are a table of six here to welcome my friend Johanna who has just moved to London. Being part of a large group is the best way to eat the food at Gallipoli as it affords you the chance to sample and share a few different dishes. Echoing home cooking the dishes are served in platters to the centre of the table so everyone can dig in.
From the specials board the lamb and aubergine kebab is an inspired flavour combination. The taste of the grilled lamb is enhanced by the smoky aubergine. The fish kebab is not quite as good, threaded with chunks of firm white sea bream which are slightly overcooked. The kebabs are served with bowls heaped with mounds of white rice and between this and the Turkish bread our appetites are soon sated.
Nevertheless I am a big baklava fan and never miss an opportunity to snaffle some. Gallipoli’s version is served with a swirl of chocolate sauce and looked the business but the delicate layers of pastry were dry and left me with a stale taste in my mouth.
As we drained the last of our Efes beers one of the waiters pulled enthusiastically on a bell hanging form the ceiling. Evidently it was one customers birthday as the next second the Turkish music playing over the sound system was replaced by a booming rendition of Happy Birthday. After some prodding from the waiters the birthday boy was up dancing on his chair while shots were carried over to his table. Apparently our gathering also looked in a celebratory mood as next thing we kenw a round of tequila shots were brought to our table. Oh dear.
Gallipoli is the type of restaurant that is good for groups particularly those looking to kick start a night out. The food is good but not great as a whole. Still, it is hard to complain when the bill for a veritable banquet of food along with a few drinks (and lets not forget the complimentary tequila shot) is £25 per head. Johanna was left to shake her head “Is London always like this on a Tuesday night?” she asked as we grimaced from the bitter aftertaste of tequila. I could only smile and shrug.
Details 20 Upper Street, Islington N1 1QP (Ph 020 7359 0630)
Damage Such a bargain my mother would approve
If you liked reading this read about my favourite restaurant in this area Ottolenghi. If you are looking for Turkish food why not try out Kazan.